Launched four years ago, the US Navy Community College offers Marines, Coast Guardsmen and sailors, like those manning the rails on board the amphibious dock landing ship Harpers Ferry on Oct. 7, 2022, in San Francisco. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Margie Vinson.
When Sgt. Maj. Mike Hensley became a rifleman nearly three decades ago, it was tough for infantry Marines to earn college credits.
Grunts spent their time in the field, rarely in a university classroom. But during his long career, he still earned associate and bachelor’s degrees in organizational leadership. He was also awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star.
Now he serves as the senior enlisted advisor to the US Naval Community College, a military initiative designed to help enlisted Marines, sailors, and Coast Guard personnel earn post-high school degrees.
Launched in 2018, it’s partly modeled on the 50-year-old Community College of the Air Force, but tailored for troops who go to sea. All classes are online and asynchronous, so learning occurs whenever the student can hop aboard.
“Where I see USNCC and technology really helps nowadays, is it removes that glass ceiling from MOSs and ratings that have no time restrictions, because I can still go to the field, and I can go out to sea, or I can go on my Coast Guard cutter five days a week, and then still have three days out of the week that I can do my courses and my material and tests and quizzes,” Hensley told Coffee or Die Magazine.
Rear Adm. Pete Garvin, left, the commander of Naval Education and Training Command, speaks with Dr. Randi Cosentino, president of the United States Navy Community College, at his headquarters in Pensacola, Florida, July 26, 2022. The community college helps enlisted sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen earn professional certificates and degrees. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary Melvin.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, the community college has enrolled 1,157 troops, and courses are free to the service members. Fully accredited, the community college will confer associate's degrees, with classes concentrated in disciplines such as military studies, nuclear engineering technology, and cybersecurity.
And the credits also can be used to fulfill parts of a bachelor's degree at other institutions.
Next year, the college will start offering organizational-leadership and aviation-maintenance-technology degree programs.
US Naval Community College President Randi R. Cosentino told Coffee or Die the school already had 23 students working toward Naval Studies Certificates, which focus on ethics, leadership, history, political science, and the geopolitical roles played by the maritime services.
When they graduate, they can apply those credits to an associate degree. She estimates the college will enroll 3,000 students in seven different degree concentrations by the end of 2023, including new programs for data analytics and maritime logistics.
“I wish the opportunity had been there when I was a young service member,” Hensley said. “While I'm exceptionally glad that it is there now, I look forward to the opportunity that it’s going to provide for service members going forward.”
Editor's Note: This story was changed to reflect that the community college does not confer bachelor's degrees.
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Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.
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